‘The Waltons’: Show Knocked Off Long-Running NBC Program for Top Spot

by Matthew Wilson

“The Waltons” is a classic, beloved by fans across the globe. Back when it first aired, it showed how popular it would become, knocking a long-running NBC show from the top of ratings.

The show about a Depression-era Virginia family proved to be a hit with viewers on CBS. But it also drew away viewers from the NBC show “The Flip Wilson Show ” and the ABC show “The Mod Squad.” Both shows aired at the same time as “The Waltons” did. In fact, “Flip Wilson” was a ratings darling and was the second most-watched show.

“Flip Wilson” was a variety and comedy show. It couldn’t be more different from “The Waltons.” But viewers started tuning into The Walton family and away from Wilson. Not only did “The Flip Wilson Show” lose its top spot in the ratings, but the show also dropped out of the top 30

“We thought ‘The Waltons’ would be a good counter‐program to ‘Flip Wilson’ and ‘Mod Squad,'” CBS VP of Programming Fred Silverman told The New York Times. “The basic appeal of those two shows is urban. We hoped ‘The Waltons’ would have a big appeal in rural areas and small towns. We knew ‘Flip Wilson’ would be No. 1, but we thought ‘The Waltons’ might make a good race against ‘Mod Squad’ for second place, that it might even be neck and neck.”

Wilson was not amused. The comedian, fearing cancellation, preferred to end the show on his own terms and closed the programming after four seasons.

CBS Sent ‘The Waltons’ For Cancelation

But “The Waltons” success is even more amazing because CBS didn’t believe in the programming. The show had been based on “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story,” a television film. Ratings success from that special convinced the network to green light a series exploring The Walton family.

But the show debuted during the “rural purge” of the 1970s. CBS had begun focusing on more urban content. As a result, they scheduled the show against “The Flip Wilson Show” and “The Mod Squad” to try to get it canceled. The 8 p.m. timeslot was meant to be “The Waltons” death.

But the show ended up running for nine seasons and multiple TV movies instead.